Professor Brian Cox Suggests Pluto Could be Home to Alien Life

Friday, 04 September 2015 - 11:56AM
Astrobiology
Alien Life
Friday, 04 September 2015 - 11:56AM
Professor Brian Cox Suggests Pluto Could be Home to Alien Life
The recent flyby of Pluto by NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft shed new light on the dwarf planet, giving scientists masses of data to pour over as they try and puzzle out the mystery of what was once our solar system's outermost planet. That extreme location in our solar system meant that, for a long time, Pluto was regarded as nothing more than a cold, harsh wasteland.  While the cold and harsh parts of that notion may still ring true, the New Horizons flyby has led some to suggest that Pluto isn't as much of a wasteland as we previously thought, and could even harbor alien life.

Professor Brian Cox, a British Physicist known for his many educational shows in the UK, says that data coming from New Horizons suggests that Pluto may be home to a significant subsurface ocean, and must therefore be considered a candidate for harboring alien life.

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[New Horizons] showed you that there may well be a subsurface ocean on Pluto. [This] means - if our understanding of life on Earth is even slightly correct - that you could have living things there.
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As New Horizons came within 7,800 miles of Pluto, it discovered what looked to be large mountains, which many now believe are made up of ice. These icy behemoths have led experts to suggest that they are being fed by subsurface oceans of liquid water, which rises to the surface and freezes upon contact with Pluto's -233 Celsius temperatures.

But although Pluto may be a good candidate for discovering alien life, Cox says it's unlikely to be the first place we look for it. Moons like Titan, Europa and Enceladus are all thought to share similar subsurface ocean conditions and most importantly, they're all a lot closer than Pluto.

Opening quote
It's [Pluto] not as accessible, unfortunately, as Europa [a satellite of Jupiter] or some of Saturn's moons. Titan looks as though it's got a subsurface ocean now, and Enceladus throws liquid into space, so you can fly through that and see if it's got organics in it.
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So while it may not be Pluto that gives us the breakthrough, the scientific community has now become a great deal more optimistic that alien life can exist in our solar system. With NASA already planning a mission to Europa, it could be that humanity could get the answer to the ultimate question of whether or not we're alone in the Universe, within our lifetime.

Opening quote
What science is telling us now is that complex life is probably rare. We're physically insignificant and yet probably very valuable. We're also at the stage now, with the new generation of telescopes, where we can look at the light coming through the atmospheres of planets out there and start to characterise it. We might detect life on other planets before we detect it in the solar system which is exciting.
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Astrobiology
Alien Life

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